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Working Hours and Overtime Regulations

Understand the laws governing work hours and overtime in Germany

Standard working hours

Germany maintains a regulated system for working hours, ensuring fair treatment for employees.

The standard workweek in Germany is capped at 48 hours, as outlined in the Working Hours Act. This translates to an average of eight hours per day for a five-day workweek. Section 3 of the Working Hours Act establishes this standard workweek. It's important to note that this is an average, and daily working hours can fluctuate within the legal limits as long as the weekly average doesn't exceed 48 hours.

There are exceptions for shorter workweeks in some sectors or collective bargaining agreements. For instance, some office jobs might have a 35-hour workweek.

The daily working time typically falls within eight hours. However, the Working Hours Act allows for some flexibility. Daily working hours can be extended to 10 hours on a maximum of 60 days per year, provided the average working time over a six-month period doesn't exceed eight hours per day. This extension is permitted under Section 10 of the Working Hours Act.


In Germany, overtime work is regulated by the labour law to ensure fairness for employees and prevent excessive working hours. Overtime work applies when an employee's work hours surpass the standard limits. This can occur in two ways:

  • Working hours exceeding the 48-hour weekly limit established in the Working Hours Act (ArbZG) constitute overtime.
  • Working hours exceeding eight hours per day (or 10 hours on permitted extension days) also qualify as overtime.

German law mandates compensation for overtime work. The specific rate depends on factors outlined in individual employment contracts or collective bargaining agreements. However, there are some general guidelines:

  • In the absence of a specified rate in the employment contract, the minimum overtime pay is at least 1.5 times the employee's regular hourly rate.
  • Employment contracts or collective agreements can stipulate higher overtime pay rates.

There are some limited exceptions where overtime compensation might not apply:

  • Certain high-level management positions might be exempt from overtime regulations based on the nature of their duties.
  • In specific circumstances, employers and employees can agree on an annual working time model that calculates overtime differently. However, strict limitations and employee consent are required for such agreements.

Employers typically require employee consent before assigning overtime work, except in emergency situations. The Working Hours Act discourages excessive overtime by requiring special permits for exceeding certain annual overtime limits.

Rest periods and breaks

German labour law prioritizes employee well-being by mandating rest periods and breaks throughout the workday and between work shifts.

Rest Periods Between Work Shifts

German law guarantees a minimum uninterrupted rest period of eight consecutive hours between work shifts. This ensures adequate recovery time for employees before returning to work. This regulation is established in Section 5 of the Working Hours Act.

Rest Breaks During the Workday

Breaks are also mandated to prevent fatigue and promote employee well-being. The required break duration depends on the total working time per day:

  • For working hours exceeding six but less than nine hours, a minimum break of 30 minutes is required.
  • If the workday extends beyond nine hours, employees are entitled to a break of at least 45 minutes.

These break time regulations are outlined in Section 11 of the Working Hours Act. While the law dictates minimum break times, employers can offer longer breaks at their discretion.

Important Considerations

Rest breaks are typically unpaid in Germany. However, some collective bargaining agreements or individual employment contracts might stipulate paid breaks. The Working Hours Act doesn't dictate the specific timing of breaks within the workday. However, breaks should be scheduled to provide an adequate break in the middle of the workday. Employers and employees can typically discuss and agree on a mutually beneficial break schedule.

Night shift and weekend regulations

In Germany, specific regulations address night shifts and weekend work:

Night Shift Work

  • Night shift workers are still subject to the standard working hour limitations.
  • Night shift hours exceeding these limits qualify for overtime compensation, typically at a minimum rate of 1.5 times the regular pay.
  • The Act emphasizes consideration for employee well-being during night shifts. Employers should strive for ergonomic work design and breaks designated for napping or fatigue management, though these aren't legally mandated.

Weekend Work

  • The minimum eight-hour rest period between work shifts also applies to weekends. This ensures recovery time even if shifts fall on Saturdays or Sundays.
  • Similar to weekdays, if weekend work surpasses the standard workweek or workday hours, employees are entitled to overtime pay.
  • Working on Sundays is generally prohibited with some exceptions. These exceptions might include essential services (hospitals, emergency services) or specific industries with prior approval.

General Considerations

  • Night or weekend work might involve shift rotations. While not mandated, predictable schedules can improve employee well-being compared to erratic scheduling.
  • Night or weekend work might come with premium pay negotiated within employment contracts to incentivize employees.
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